Yesterday, the New York Times published an article about a deadly balcony collapse in Berkeley that killed six college students from Ireland who had been partying on the structure. The victims had come to California on the J1 work-visa program—which, the Times noted in the second paragraph of the article, has become “a source of embarrassment for Ireland, marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.”
The inclusion of this detail struck many Irelanders as anti-Irish, effectively using the stereotype of Irish drunkenness to blame the students for their own deaths. On Twitter, Minister of Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin wrote in a message directed at the Times: “Your newspaper’s reporting of the Berkeley tragedy is a disgrace.” He later told the Guardian: “If that had been victims from any other nation would they have written an article like that? To do so in your early coverage of this tragedy is well, quite frankly disgusting.”
We understand and agree that some of the language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive, particularly in such close proximity to this tragedy. It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologize if the piece left that impression. We will continue to cover this story and report on the young people who lost their lives.
It is not The Times’s policy to take a published story off its website, but the story would clearly have been written and edited differently now. ... I can say not only that I believe many of the complaints were valid, but also that I’m very sorry for the pain the story caused.
These apologies—granted by the paper’s chief publicist and its designated ombudsman—are particularly noteworthy given the Times’ reluctance to apologize for its reporting in virtually every other circumstance. Last August, for example, the paper was widely criticized for a front-page story by John Eligon that referred to Michael Brown, the black teenager gunned down in Ferguson by white cop Darren Wilson, as “no angel.” The same story treated Brown’s commonplace teenage interests—rap music, weed, and alcohol—as illuminating aspects of his character.
In my view, the timing of the article (on the day of Mr. Brown’s funeral) was not ideal. Its pairing with a profile of Mr. Wilson seemed to inappropriately equate the two people. And “no angel” was a blunder.
Still, neither she nor the Times issued an apology.